Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Are you ready for some CRAB FOOD?

Who else is excited about the Super Bowl this year? I'm a Bears fan (just like blue crabs - see here), but my Long Islander husband also roots for the Giants, so we're pretty pumped to see the Giants play the Patriots again! (For those of you who aren't so American football oriented - the Giants beat the Patriots in 2008, so this will be an exciting rematch!)

OK, enough about that. We all know the second most exciting thing about the Super Bowl is the food! (I used to think it was the commercials, but they've kind of gone downhill.) So what am I making? I've been searching around the wonderful world of Pinterest and finding lots of ideas:

I can't decide! I'm thinking of either making Hot Crab Dip or Crab-Stuffed Jalapeños. It depends on the quality of jalapeños we can get up here; sometimes they're really fresh but other times they look 1 day shy of becoming jalapeño soup.

I'll let you know what I pick later, but here are both recipes for your cooking pleasure:

Hot Crab Dip

8 oz. plain cream cheese
8 oz. chive and onion cream cheese
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon Old Bay® Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon horseradish - this is what drew me in!
6 oz. non-lump crab meat
8 oz. jumbo lump crab meat

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a large bowl, mix the cream cheeses, mayonnaise and cheddar cheese thoroughly. (We sometimes use our Cuisinart to whip cream cheese for extra fluffiness.)

3. Sprinkle in the Old Bay®, good ol' Worcestershire (any Two Fat Ladies fans out there?), horseradish, and the 6 oz. of non-lump meat. Mix until combined. Then gently fold in the lump crab meat.

4. Empty the bowl into an oven-safe dish that can ideally hold 4 cups worth of goodness. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in the oven. Cook for 40 minutes, uncovering half way through, or until the top of the dish is golden brown and bubbly.

5. Let it rest for about 10 minutes so you don’t burn your mouth. Adryon suggests to serve it with crusty bread or celery and carrots. She also says that if you prepare it a day in advance, then bake it the day-of, the flavors are that much better!

Crab-Stuffed Jalapeños
adapted from Saveur
(I'm changing up some things, since we don't fry stuff)

10–12 medium jalapeños
1/4 lb lump crab meat
3 tbsp cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro leaves
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley leaves
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp plus 3/4 cup dried bread crumbs
2 tsp fresh lime juice
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside.

2. Cut off the tops and halve each jalapeño. Remove the seeds if you want (and remember, the pith holds a lot of heat, but if you want to remove that too you should probably just stop eating jalapeños).

3. Mix together crab, cream cheese, cilantro, parsley, shallots, 1 1/2 tbsp bread crumbs, and lime juice in a bowl. Stuff each jalapeño with about 1 tbsp of filling; transfer to a plate.

4. Put remaining bread crumbs into a shallow dish. Put flour into another small dish. Whisk together milk and eggs in a bowl. Dredge each jalapeño in flour, shaking off excess. Dip jalapeño in egg mixture, roll in bread crumbs, and transfer to a baking sheet, cut side up.

5. Bake jalapeños for 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly on the inside. I got the baking modification from Emeril Lagasse's "Baked, Not Fried" episode, and he suggests you serve these bad boys immediately with a cold beer. But it's up to you.

Emeril's baked poppers look delicious,
but imagine how much better they'd be with crab!

What are YOU going to make for Super Bowl Sunday?

I went with the crab dip, and my honest opinion: it needs WAY more horseradish. Maybe it's my Polish side, but I doubled the amount of horseradish used (it was what drew me in, after all) and I still couldn't taste it in the finished product. Next time I may go with a different dip entirely, but if I do I'll be sure to share the recipe with you!

Friday, January 27, 2012

How to prepare and cook Dungeness crab

Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) is a health concern with symptoms of numbness or tingling of the face, arms, and legs, dizziness, nausea, and, in severe cases, death. It's pretty prevalent in Southeast Alaska and you can get it from eating clams and mussels that have bioaccumulated neurotoxins produced by the microalgae Alexandrium sp. The neurotoxins don't lose potency just from freezing the meat or cooking it.

incidents of PSP, showing why people stick to the
'R' months when harvesting bivalves

Neurotoxins are also accumulated in crabs, although they're only found in crab viscera ("innards") and not the meat. This is why it's important to know how to properly prepare your Dungies before cooking and eating them. (Read more about PSP in Dungeness crabs Metacarcinus magister here.)

a lovely Dungeness crab complete with barnacle accessory!

The basic steps to properly, quickly, and safely killing and cleaning your Dungeness crabs are to:

1. Crack off the top of their carapace quickly. You can even see a depiction of this step by famed Alaskan artist Rie Muñoz here.

2. Clean out their internal organs - this is what kills them almost instantly because it quickly removes their heart and nerves (remember learning about crustacean nervous systems from this post?), and by removing their hepatopancreas and other innards you are removing your risk of PSP!

3. Crack the dead crab in half, leaving one claw and four legs on each half. Now you're ready to boil 'em for 5 -7 minutes!

perfectly cleaned, halved, and cooked

For a video, you can click on this link. It's a bit crude, but it shows how the guy can get the job done quickly. The crabs' legs twitch a bit after the fact, but that's just like how human bodies will twitch after they're dead sometimes, so even though in the comments section someone is complaining about the crab being alive after being gutted and halved, that's just not true.

ready to crack into!

I've seen videos and articles on boiling the crabs whole, and even heard a rant from Gordon Ramsay (on MasterChef) on the "inhumane" way of killing crabs by quickly splitting them in half rather than boiling them alive, but this is the best way to do it if you don't want to risk getting PSP.

don't worry, Gordon, I'm still a fan

Luckily for us, researchers are working on a PSP monitoring program to detect the two main players in Alaska, Alexandrium fundyense and A. ostenfeldii, by developing a quantitative molecular assay which can tell not only presence or absence, but also level of toxicity (I learned about it at the 2012 Alaska Marine Science Symposium). 

If you're not into killing your own crabs, no worries - canned crab is just fine, especially if it's not Dungie season in your area. Just promise me you won't use fake krab meat for anything other than a California roll. Remember, that stuff is surimi (mostly ground pollock).

OK, OK, even after observing pollock offloads at the 
Alyeska Plant in Dutch Harbor, I'll still eat this stuff!

So, now that you have your crab meat ready, have fun cooking any of these recipes:

Amalga crab cakes
Crab apple salad
Creamy crab and pepper spread

I'm going to post a couple recipes next week in preparation for Super Bowl Sunday, so keep an eye out for that too!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


During this past year's Interagency Crab Meeting, Bob Foy (the Kodiak lab director) briefly covered all the amazing crab projects being undertaken by NMFS at the AFSC in Kodiak. One study that caught my attention over the others was a tag/dive project looking at the incidence of commercially important crab in derelict pots. An equally interesting study caught my eye at the 2012 Alaska Marine Science Symposium: it was a side scan sonar/dive survey of derelict pots in Southeast Alaska. So let's compare ghost fishing between Womens Bay off of Kodiak and around Southeast AK, and its effects on red king crab and Dungeness crab stocks!

a ghost-fishing pot with its prize: a dead blue crab
(Callinectes sapidus) from Chesapeake Bay

You may remember this post about ghost fishing in Chesapeake Bay. Ghost fishing is when gear is lost and not retrieved in the water, but still intact enough to continue catching, and killing, animals. How many crabs are being caught by derelict pots in Alaska? Let's first look at Womens Bay:

The Kodiak project was a bit longer in scale, running from 1990 to 2008. Between that time, scientists dove on 614 lost pots and found tagged red king crabs (Paralithodes camtschaticus) in or around almost 10% of those lost pots! Of the 26 tagged crabs found, 12 were dead, including 4 mature females. Hundreds of untagged crabs were spotted as well.

a derelict pot and its king crab catch

The Southeast Alaska project ran during the summers of 2009 and 2010. First researchers used side scan sonar to identify potential pots, then they dove on the sites to confirm sightings (sometimes it was just a large rock) and retrieve the derelict pots. They found 206 pots at a density of 1 - 22 pots per square kilometer (0.4 - 8.5 square miles), and up to 50% of the pots had one or more Dungeness crabs (Metacarcinus magister) depending on the area surveyed.

watch out, little crab, you're about to be Casper-fished!

So how is this phenomenon of ghost fishing affecting the crabs overall? In southeast it's estimated that 1,812 Dungies are being caught in 1,675 pots yearly, which is less than 2% of the annual commercial harvest. But in Womens Bay, it's estimated that derelict pots kill between 6 and 12% of king crab per year! Ghost fishing is not just an issue around Kodiak and Southeast; an estimated 10,000 commercial crab pots may dot the sea floor across the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. That's why it's so important for commercial and recreational crab fishermen to comply with regulations, whether it calls for 18 inches of biodegradable mesh or unobstructed escape rings on the side of a pot. In the Southeast study, 91% of the retrieved pots were in compliance with an escape mechanism. (Actually, 15% of the Southeast pots were still fishing because they were so old that marine biota had overgrown any possible escape routs!)

a nice lookin' pot with some Dungies off Oregon

Abstract fun:
Ghost Fishing on King Crab in Womens Bay
Peter A. Cummiskey, Eric Munk, and W. Christopher Long

Ghost Fishing in the Southeastern Alaska Commercial Dungeness Crab Fishery (click on the Abstract Book link)
Jacek Maselko, Gretchen Bishop, and Peter Murphy

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Alaska Marine Science Symposium 2012

I'm having a great time at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium meeting up with friends, presenting my research, and learning A LOT! (And enjoying Anchorage's restaurants!)

king crab cakes eggs benedict from Snow City Cafe

I had a great time at the poster session seeing all the other snow crab posters as well as other crabby works (and, of course, all my fellow SFOS students' posters). I also had fun seeing all the Snow Crab Love mugs scooped up. I hope everyone likes them!

showing off my poster and mug at the symposium

with Sherry - makin' her proud!

Congratulations to Raphaelle Descoteaux, one of the poster session winners! Way to represent crab science! Her project is "Effects of ocean acidification on larval development in Alaskan crabs", and hopefully I can get an "Ask a Grad Student" interview with her later so you can learn more about it.

Chionoecetes bairdi larval stages (from here)

There's still Gulf of Alaska presentations to see tomorrow, but I'll be back with more crab knowledge gained from this meeting next week! See you then!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dawn of the Crabs

Many of you who know me know that I love a good zombie flick. So imagine my glee at discovering this week's Crabday crab:

Zombie Crab
Gecarcinus ruricola

I first stumbled upon the zombie crab when covering Barbados' Independence Day, but I didn't want to stop there. No, we all need to learn more about this wonderful creature!

The Walking Crab

The zombie crab is a Caribbean land crab, so while I first noted their Barbados dwelling, they're also found in Cuba and islands of the Lesser Antilles. They have more common less fun names like the purple/red/black land crab (sounds like a pretty sweet goth color scheme though), but "zombie crab" seems the most appropriate when considering their interspecies intermingling. Drosophila carcinophila and D. endobranchia spend most of their lives on zombie crabs - you see it now? Crabs covered in flies like road kill, but still walking around and able to flee from predators! DON'T LET THEM BITE YOU!!!

oh yeah, they really just eat plant matter...
and cat food, on occasion

 The flies basically use zombie crabs as a nursery, but then never seem to move on.

the "crabitat", coined by Stensmyr et al. (2008):
(D) a male and female fly flirting near the crab's eyestalk,
(E) a larval fly (red arrow) eating microbes off nephric pads,
and (F) gill chamber where 2nd instar larvae live

You could say the flies have a Failure to Launch. Eh? Get it? (Yes, I kind of hate myself for using that movie reference. But the movie did have its charming moments. I mean, who doesn't enjoy a good Zooey Deschanel one-liner?) Ugh, I should just stick to zombie movie references from now on.

day 1: exposure to zombie crabs
day 2: obsession with zombie crabs
day 3: EPIDEMIC! 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Future crab biologist

One day a little girl approached her dad with the idea to strap his iPhone into the bottom of their crab pot to video tape crab behavior.

And the dad said, "OK"!

Dad (Mike Adamick), you're pretty awesome. Not too many dads would willingly strap their iPhones to bait that has, in the past, been snatched away by sea lions. Bravo, sir! And Emme, you're a pretty clever little girl. (I like your hat, too.)

Now, science is a fun roller coaster ride of trial and error, so their video wasn't as exciting as they might have hoped, but the point is they did it! And it had a happy ending (for most involved...). So here it is, for your viewing pleasure:

Hooray for Cancer crabs and cheeky sea lions, and hooray for inquisitive little scientists!

Friday, January 6, 2012


It's been a while since we've had a Crabday, so this week we're going down on the farm! Let's wrangle up the

Sheep Crab
Loxorhynchus grandis

(picture from here)

No, not a crab that herds sheep, but that's what I thought too (no, I didn't).

a SHEEP crab with a sea HARE - can you imagine the stew?!?

Sheep crabs are big spider crabs, being the largest of California's majid crabs! They're pretty similar to snow crabs, actually, with females able to store sperm for multiple clutches! Another similarity to snow crabs is sheep crabs undergo a terminal molt.

imagine the spermatophores on this guy!

Despite the name this ain't no sheepish crab! Diver Dr. Bill Bushing calls the sheep crab the "Mike Tyson of the underwater world"! We should pit one against a boxer crab to see what happens!

a sheep crab feasts on a shovelnose guitarfish

(The sheep crab would probably eat the boxer crab, what with their ridiculous size difference - sheep crabs can have carapace widths up to 6 inches while boxer crabs are often less than 1 inch across. But still. We can pretend.)


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hybrid crabs

You may remember me mentioning snow crabs (Chionoecetes opilio) and their congener Tanner crabs (C. bairdi) are makin' babies in the eastern Bering Sea, resulting in hybrid crabs!

hybrid: "I'm a monster!!"

Well, it's getting worse. Or more prevalent? Or just more closely looked for and then accurately identified. Something like that. Anyway, when I was at the Interagency Crab Meeting this year, Dan Urban from NMFS Kodiak updated us on the Chionoecetes hybrid situation:

Chionoecetes hybrids (#/square nautical mile) encountered
during the 2011 NMFS summer trawl survey (draft report here)

And just as I had suspected, Dan said the participants are bairdi males and opie females. Which leads me to this horrifying conclusion: the Tanners are trying to take down the snow crabs! Think about it: it's just like the English vs. the Scots:

"If we can't get them out, we'll breed them out."

It's hard to stomach, I know. And that makes our opie men kinda like these guys:

totally historically accurate.

Maybe some of you out there are romantics and are thinking, "No wait. Maybe the opies and bairdis are actually in love, even though it's forbidden!" Yeah, OK. Like maybe the opie females are from the Capulets and the bairdi males are from the Montagues and it's all very enchanting?

"My only love sprung from my only hate!" - Juliet opie female

That would be sweet, except the crabs in the eastern Bering Sea don't have a major failure in communication that leads to their untimely demise (aka heartbroken suicide). They reproduce! They make hybrid babies! And those hybrids reproduce too, albeit at lower rates (the females tend to have less clutch-fullness). So no. I'm sticking with the Braveheart analogy.